By Brianna Wilson

Communities to Careers: Physical Therapist Assistant- Healing Patients Through Aquatic Therapy

Imagine not being able to walk to your fridge, get into your shower, or even get out of bed. Now imagine you can do those things, but they take a long time and cause excruciating pain.

This is the reality for most of Bridget Sanders’ patients. But as a physical therapist assistant in the rehabilitation department at The University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center- Center of Excellence (SRMC COE), her job is to make what feels impossible, possible again. One of her favorite tools is a pool.

“I think it is amazing—so many people that have a difficult time or cannot do things on land, are able to do them in water,” Sanders said. 

People that have not been walking for years, who are wheelchair-bound in their home, can actually get in the pool and walk for a full 45 minutes.
Bridget Sanders, Physical Therapist Assistant, UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center Rehabilitation Department

Sanders said this form of therapy has brought patients to tears because of how freely they are able to balance and move in the water, without pain and difficulty. 

“They feel looser, they feel limber, they feel mobile,” she said. 

She added that she keeps the temperature of the water at 92 degrees, which helps with buoyancy. “Some people cannot raise their arm on land, but the water helps raise their arm up, almost like a flotation device.”


Sanders said SRMC’s COE is also the only facility in the state that has a treadmill inside an aquatic therapy pool. This allows patients to walk for longer periods of time, longer distances and possibly run. 

“We fought hard to get this pool, specifically for sport rehab, but it is amazing what all it has touched,” Sanders said. “Even people with Parkinson's Syndrome or brain injuries. Some people travel 50 plus miles to come to our pool to do aquatic therapy.”

Sanders spends seven hours a day, four days a week, doing aquatic therapy at the SRMC COE. She joined the UNM Health System a year-and-a-half ago, but has been doing aquatic therapy across the state for the past eight years. When she is not healing patients as a PTA, she is a personal trainer and certified health coach. 

“Right before I went to school, I was a Jazzercise instructor—to date me,” Sanders said with a laugh. “Then, I got certified as a personal trainer, but it still was not what I was really looking to do. I wanted to not only help people advance in their fitness, but I wanted to get them able to do fitness.”

So, she went to PTA school at San Juan College in Farmington and has been fulfilling that personal goal ever since. Sanders also has a master’s degree in health care management from Colorado State University and said she loves learning and developing new skills to help others.


“Just because it hurts to bend over and pick something up this minute, does not mean that is it, you have to go sit on the couch, your life is over,” she said. “There is so much more that we can do to help you be comfortable with what you do.”

Sanders said she cannot count the number of people she has personally touched and improved, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

“I had one gentleman who was able to win a custody battle after he was able to walk again, because he was seen as an invalid in a wheelchair before,” she said. “He lost custody of his child and regained it—I mean, that is just huge—and there are so many other ways people have improved because they are physically capable again.”

In the short time Sanders has been at SRMC, she said she has witnessed hundreds of lives change, and she hopes to change thousands more.

If you too would like to become a source of positive change in your community as a health care professional, UNM offers support and resources. Click here to learn more about Communities to Careers programs that may be the perfect fit for you. 

Visit our unmsrmc Instagram page to learn more about Aquatic Therapy at the Center of Excellence, and how to schedule an appointment.  

Categories: Communities to Careers, Sandoval Regional Medical Center, Top Stories